November 4, 2004

Canyon, TX – Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:39 pm by diandy2004

We drove 290 miles to Canyon, TX with the wind at our back and ‘downhill’ most of the way. With these conditions we got the best gas mileage yet – 11.11 mpg. Our destination was Palo Duro State Park, just south of Amarillo. One thing we’re learning about Texas – it keeps secrets about it’s beautiful areas and Palo Duro is one of them.

This is the second largest canyon in the country at 120 miles long and 800 feet deep. The State Park offers 30 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails down in the canyon. The drive down to the campground is a two-mile long road with a 10% grade and switchbacks. The canyon walls consist of reds, purples, yellows, and whites. The canyon floor is a multitude of greens. There were hoodoos, caprocks and “spanish skirts” at every turn. An absolute feast for the eyes.

Overlooking Palo Duro Canyon

Spanish Skirts

My Favorite Caprock

Our initial plan was one day in the park, but after hiking and biking on Saturday, we knew it just wasn’t enough! The problem was the weather. Weather reports were calling for a “dusting of snow” on Monday and high winds around 35mph. So we couldn’t just stay one more day, it would have to be two – one for fun (Sun) and one to “hunker down” and wait out the bad weather (Mon). So Sunday was spent biking around the park. These were some of the best biking trails we’ve been on – well-maintained, challenging, but doable for someone of Diane’s skill-level. Some trails were also for biking only which is a rare find.

Colors of Palo Duro

But here’s what really happened with the weather and why we’ll never trust weathermen again: Sunday was overcast, not sunny as forecasted; Monday was cold with high winds but it did not snow; Tuesday it snowed…and snowed…and snowed; Wednesday, the road out of the canyon was coated in snow and slush (remember 10% grade) and the highway out of the park was reported as impassable. The snow in the canyon melted quickly on Wednesday morning since it averages 10 degrees warmer at the bottom, but we hiked up the road to the rim and found 6″ still sitting on top. Weather reports stated a nearby town got 13″ of snow, so I guess we were lucky? The State Park was officially closed for the two days – with 4 campers and 2 camphosts stuck on the bottom. We weren’t able to drive out til Thursday. Jim and Chris – you guys don’t know cold til you follow our Tour de America. We got excited when temps went above freezing!

But what a place. And what an opportunity to see it draped in snow. The contrast of colors: the deep reds and purples covered in white. The contradiction of a desert’s prickly pear cacti and agaves buried in snow. Coyotes howling and yipping in the distance. We couldn’t resist hiking in it on Tuesday. Once, in the middle of the snow storm with winds howling at 40 mph and snow blowing sideways. And then later when it slowed down just prior to sunset. Now we understand why the Red River (which carved this canyon) is called the Red River. Normally it was brown, but with the new precipitation it was red from the fresh erosion process. And now there was lots of little streams or trickles where there were none yesterday…all deep red…against the white snow.

Let it Snow!

Snowball Fight!

Red Dirt and White Snow

Hiking in Subfreezing Temps

Hiking in the Snow

Since we were trapped on Wednesday, we went hiking again to see the changes. Again, most of the snow melted quickly so the trail was thick with mud in spots. The sandstone cliffs were visibly and noisily calving away from the weight of the snow and water. The park road has six river crossings, but now was closed at river crossing number four because the red, muddy water is flowing over the road.

Sloshing thru the Mud

What a visit. What a park.

Palo Duro is one of the places on our list to visit again. Try to get there yourself, but don’t tell the Texans we told you…

…it’s a secret!

There are more pictures on the Web Albums. Just click on any of these pictures and you’ll see them bigger and you can see more of this park.